Like the rock band The Clash, The Bridges of Madison County asks the question “Should I stay or should I go?” Director Patrick A’Hearn and the cast at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts have put on a musical that is a triumph of high art.
The music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and the book by Marsha Norman bring this story to life. Based on the novel by Robert James Waller, The Bridges of Madison County tells the story of a bored World War II Italian war bride/farmer’s wife who lives in 1965 Iowa. While her family is out of town at the state fair, she meets a National Geographic photographer, on assignment to capture images of bridges, and embarks on an affair. Will she leave her family for the man she loves?
Married couple Adrianne Hick and Andrew Foote respectively play Francesca Johnson, the housewife, and Robert Kincaid, the photographer. Hick used her lush voice in such numbers as “To Build a Home” and “Always Better.” She brought a long-suffering weariness to her role.
Foote excelled in the numbers “Who We Are.” I related to the chemistry he displayed in his duets with Hick in “The World Inside a Frame,” “Falling Into You,” and “Before and After You/A Million Miles.” His character had one of the more compelling story arcs, and Foote’s performance was spot-on.
There was good interaction between U.S. Army Chorus veteran Ian Lane, who played farmer Charlie, and Andrea Kahane, who played his wife, Marge. Nosey Marge was hilarious in her gossipy speculations about Francesca and Robert’s relationship. Kahane, who has played in Riverside’s Souvenir and Grumpy Old Men, used her powerful pipes in “Get Closer.”
Lane and PJ Freebourn, who played Francesca’s husband, Richard “Bud” Johnson, had a touching duet in “When I’m Gone.” That number moved the story in a somber direction.
Sarah Mae Andersen played Robert’s ex-wife musician Marian in a flashback. She had a moving solo “Another Life” in which she mimed guitar playing. Kathleen Laura and Taylor Witt played the Johnson children: Caroyln and Michael. Witt did well in an antagonistic scene with Freebourn.
A’Hearn’s direction was excellent in that the performances created an emotional connection with the audience. He was creative: One of the scenes was borrowed from the movie version of Bridges of Madison County by special permission.
However, it appeared that some scene changes were rushed, which left the audience no time to respond. Some of the actors’ lines early in the show lacked volume and acoustic clarity. Some of the lyrics were swallowed up by the music. Many of those problems were resolved in the second act.
Music Director Carson Eubank led his band to music perfection. A number of the songs featured the ear-pleasing keyboard tickling of David Landrum. Joe Levens’ guitar was smooth; he provided the practical guitar licks for the aforementioned Marian’s guitar. I like how one of the songs doubled as a song from a vintage radio.
How many superlatives can I come up with for the lighting and projection design of Michael Jarett? Jarett projected pre-recorded video snippets that depicted everything from flashbacks to farmland vistas.
Scenic Designer Frank Foster created many scenery wagons. I liked the wagon that represented a pickup truck. I commend his use of a-frames, which he flew from the ceiling. All of the wagons were wheeled in without incident by the stagehands.
I loved the many apropos props of Properties Master/Set Dresser Claire Flores. One such prop was a vintage red Coca-Cola cooler. Another prop I liked was the aforementioned vintage radio.
Costume Designer Erin Welsh excelled in dressing the farmers in the show. The other costumes did a good job of evoking the mid 1960s.
This is a thought-provoking and heartfelt musical that speaks to the human condition. This show is yet another jewel in Riverside’s 25th season. Make sure to book a trip to The Bridges of Madison County.
Running Time: Approximately three hours with a 15-minute intermission.
The Bridges of Madison County plays through November 12, 2023, at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts, 95 Riverside Parkway, Fredericksburg, VA. For tickets, call (540) 370-4300 or purchase them online.
Adult Dinner & Show – $75 (plus applicable taxes)
Seniors (65+) Dinner & Show – $70 (plus applicable taxes)
Adult Show Only – $60
Seniors (65+) Show Only – $55
Children (3-12) Show Only – $55
There will be a $5.00 online processing fee added per ticket.
COVID Safety: Staff wears masks when working the floor (meal-service portion). Patrons are not required to be masked in the facility; but if patrons want to wear a mask, they are welcome to.
The Bridges of Madison County
Book by Marsha Norman
Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Based on the novel by Robert James Waller
Francesca: Adrianne Hick
Robert: Andrew Foote
Marge: Andrea Kahane
Caroyln: Kathleen Laura
Michael: Taylor Witt
Bud: PJ Freebourn
Charlie: Ian Lane
Marian: Sarah Mae Andersen
Chiara: Stephanie Wood
State Fair Singer: Elizabeth C. Butler
Ensemble: Elizabeth C. Butler, Kevin Cleary, Stephanie Wood
ARTISTIC AND CREATIVE TEAM
Director: Patrick A’Hearn
Music Direction: Carson Eubank
Lighting and Projection Design: Michael Jarett
Scenic Design: Frank Foster
Costume Design: Erin Welsh
Properties Master/Set Dresser: Claire Flores
Assistant Direction and Movement: Stephanie Wood
Sound Design: Cheyenne Tenda
Producer: Patrick A’Hearn